Review: Up In The Air.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends most of his life traveling; 322 days last year, according to his count. He fires people for a living, traveling across the country from office to office to handle mass layoffs that inept bosses fail to stomach. He also works part-time as a motivational speaker with his “What’s in your backpack” philosophy of minimizing your life. He’s great at his job, meets women on the road (Vera Farmiga plays love interest Alex Goran) and the lifestyle suits him perfectly. But his way of life is threatened when Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young, hot-shot Cornell grad, comes in with plans to cut corporate costs by implementing a video chat system to fire employees. For his final trip “up in the air”, Bingham’s boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) charges Bingham with showing Keener the ropes and reality of firing for on the job training before the company fully transitions to the new system.
We’ve all seen George Clooney be charming, and in that respect this role is perfect for him, and even written by Juno director Jason Reitman with Clooney in mind. But what makes this performance special is the complexity that comes with his charming, smooth nature. There’s a unique innocence to his charisma, a pleasure in enjoying his world and satisfaction in being great at what he does.
Clooney isn’t alone, with strong performances by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick (shockingly of Twilight fame) who fill the other starring roles. Kendrick is really impressive, and not that I’ve seen either of the Twilight films, but jumping from that to this is nothing I would have ever expected and I’m quite glad to be proven otherwise. Kendrick is fiesty, confident, and her short moment of weakness where she cries and wails like a teenage girl after having been dumped can only put a smile on your face. Kendrick’s Keener is the antithesis of everything Clooney’s Bingham stands for. She’s laid out all the plans for her life, her future, and everything in-between. She’s appalled at Bingham’s lack of care on the subjects of marriage and children, and their relationship creates a funny, interesting dynamic to mirror the generations of today’s young and old.
Fermiga fills the love interest as a fellow air warrior who gets turned on by Bingham’s elite status with American Airlines and his healthy spread of member cards. They’re the perfect storm of a noncommittal relationship based in hotel rooms and airports traveling on the company dime. And for once in Bingham’s life, he’s happy spending time with someone else rather than his usual self. The on-screen chemistry between Clooney and Farmiga is untouchable from the moment they meet, and their philosophies on life are so close knit and provide for a very funny scene where Keener sits before them in a hotel lobby like a parent-teacher conference questioning their reason for settling in life, which to Keener, “by definition”, is a sign of failure.
From Thank You For Smoking to Juno and now Up In The Air, writer-director Jason Reitman has proven his skill with topical, relevant stories that fit their own bill of the existential nature. Up In The Air started for him in 2002 when he began working on the adaptation (thanks IMDb trivia) from the book by Walter Kirn with the intent of his first feature. But as we know, other things came up, and the project was put to the side. Originally meant as a tale during a booming economy, Reitman’s own life, fatherhood, and today’s economic climate reshaped the story we see today. He even sent out a casting call (posing his crew as documentary filmmakers) to hold interviews with real-life people who had been fired in Detroit and St. Louis, asking them only to share their feelings and what they wished they would have said on the day they were let go (IMDb again). Interspersed throughout the film, these short, quick confessions hit to the heart the experience of being fired in current economic times. But it’s Bingham’s job to manage those feelings, and provide them with hope for future opportunities. This is best shown in a powerful moment with scene-stealing character actor J.K. Simmons.
A self-professed air warrior who once flew from LA to Chicago, got a pizza and flew back, just to get the miles he needed before years end, Reitman’s control of vision is so well communicated that it’s shocking to think this is only his third feature. The first line of Kirn’s book reads, “To know me is to fly with me,” and Reitman depicts the experience promised with adept skill. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a great film and Up In The Air (so far) is the best film of the year.
Acting – 10/10. Writing/Directing 9/10. Overall 9/10.
(2 Walkens awarded to J.K. Simmons for a supremely memorable 2 minutes of screen-time.)
Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. Cinematography by Eric Steelberg. Edited by Dana E. Glauberman.
Also starring: Zach Galifianakis, Sam Elliot, Danny McBride, Amy Morton & Melanie Lynskey.